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How to Fund Your Adoption: A Q&A With the Adoption Finance Coach

Kelly Ellison, creator of “Your Adoption Finance Coach,” and her team of coaches work with families across the U.S. to help create a comprehensive financial plan that matches their adoption plan. The service is free for families in the Holt adoption process, and families that use the Your Adoption Finance Coach system typically raise between $5,000 and $15,000 for their adoptions. 

This Q&A with Kelly Ellison is an edited version of the original interview. 

How did you become the “Adoption Finance Coach?”

I am an adoptive parent myself. My husband and I brought our daughter home from China in 2007. Prior to that I was in the nonprofit sector, so my lens on life was really about fundraising and community involvement and development. And so it just became very apparent to me going through the adoption process myself that there was just a huge gap between the adoptive family and the money that’s affiliated with the high cost of adoption.

How does it work when a family seeks out your services? What’s the next step?

A family comes to us from their agency, so in this case, they’d come to us through Holt. They would receive a welcome email and then they’d fill out a simple client intake form and they’re connected to a coach. The coach will then do an assessment of what that family’s situation is, what their particular financial picture looks like. Part of the challenge of this work is that not everyone has the same financial picture. Everyone is different. We are very customized in helping the families to come up with a financial plan that fits what their finances look like.

What’s the biggest misconception families have around adoption financing?

Probably the biggest misconception for families is thinking that they’re going to get grants to pay for their entire adoption. Not true. They’re not going to get that. Our formula for this is kind of “a third, a third and a third.” So if you took a whole view of their budget, a third of it is their own money, a third of it is going to be a loan or possibly a family gift, and a third is going to be grants and fundraising.

At what point in the adoption process should a family start working with a finance coach?

The moment they sign the application with Holt and they’ve been approved! That’s when we want to start working with the family. We can work with a family right up until they step on the plane, but it makes it more difficult. That timeline then gets shorter and shorter and it makes it more difficult in terms of what kinds of resources are available.

What do some families fail to consider when planning their adoption finances on their own?

Sometimes they don’t approach the grant-writing process effectively. Some families will just write grants to every foundation. So it’s a waste of time [because they haven’t pre-qualified] themselves with that foundation. We have a pretty specific process that we go through that helps the family say, “Okay, I do qualify for this foundation, and I am going to apply and therefore I have a higher chance of maybe getting a grant.” We have some families that, by the time they get to us, they’ve already written a lot of grants and sent out information, and it’s really wasted time and energy because their homestudy is not done, or they haven’t done their research and they’ve just applied to everybody. They think they’re going to get all this grant money and they end up not. It can be disappointing for them.

Can you give a glimpse of how you would help a family navigate fundraising for their adoption?

The first thing is really assessing the family’s readiness. Are you ready to put yourself out there? You have to be prepared to be on Facebook and social media. You have to be prepared to really work hard. Your timing is also very important. A good example is we find families start fundraising the minute they start their adoption. Well, if you’re doing an intercountry adoption and you’ve got [2-3 years] until you bring your child home, that is a long time. We find that sometimes families start too soon and they might get an uptick of money from their community, and then it kind of drops down and we have this long wait period. That’s what we call “donor fatigue.”

Fundraising around adoption is really about community. It’s less about, “Oh we’re doing this expensive adoption, and so therefore we should raise money and you should help us.” It’s more about, “We’re on this amazing journey and we’re building our family in an amazing way, and we want you to be a part of it.” So it’s inviting them in kind of a softer way that helps people want to be a part of something that’s bigger than them.

The final thing I will say about fundraising is “if you build it, they will come” is not necessarily true. So just going out and putting up a GoFundMe page … that’s good, but it’s not gonna’ seal the deal. We really invite families to create unique fundraising campaigns. Are they involved in a trivia club? Do they run marathons? Are they bike riders? Are they musicians? What is unique about that family?

When advising families, we always emphasize the importance of being sensitive to their child and their child’s story. Is that something you also talk about with families?

We really try and help families understand that if you’re going to go out there and fundraise … no pictures, no identifying information. You have to be very careful about your child’s story. You have to be very sensitive to that being out there for them and how they’re going to feel by having that out there when they come of age to be able to find it.

What are the key takeaways that you want families to have about your services?

I want people to know that there’s a path, that there is support, that there are resources out there for families that have a heart for intercountry adoption. And that we do understand what you’re going through. We’ve been there. All of my coaches have been touched by adoption. So when families step on a path of intercountry adoption or domestic adoption or hosting to adopt or whatever the case might be, we can really wrap our arms around them and help them as a resource. And we’re not going to stop. We’re going to help them. It’s very rare that we would have a family that just can’t make it happen. We’ll turn over every box, turn it on its ear, to help a family bring a child home.

Holt believes finances should never stand between a permanent, loving family and a child who truly needs one. That’s why we cover the cost of Your Adoption Finance Coach services — giving families in the Holt adoption process free access to everything from personalized coaching and an on-demand video library to downloadable planning templates, monthly webinars and more.

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